August 26, 2015

Sealing the deal over lunch

Machiavelli’s Caterina Tarchi, Marque’s Mark Best and etiquette expert Anna Musson share their ingredients for hosting a successful and memorable business lunch to build rapport with clients or get a deal over the line.

Machiavelli’s Caterina Tarchi, Marque’s Mark Best and etiquette expert Anna Musson share their ingredients for hosting a successful and memorable business lunch to build rapport with clients or get a deal over the line.

Machiavelli has been a Sydney institution for the past 27 years, as famous for its illustrious clientele as its classic Italian food. Caterina Tarchi, who owns the restaurant with her mother Giovanna Toppi, still numbers politicians, business leaders and other powerbrokers among her regular customers – though these days their lunches are less likely to linger through the afternoon.

“We’ve seen a big change since the global financial crisis,” says Tarchi. “We’re still very busy at lunchtime but people aren’t staying nearly as long as they used to. They want to break bread together because that’s the age-old way of doing deals and building business relationships but now they tend to save the really long meetings until after business hours. We’re busier than ever at dinner time.”

She’s also seen a trend towards lighter, healthier food.

“We source organic produce wherever possible for the very best flavours and we use only the freshest ingredients – for example, our seafood is delivered twice daily, at 7am and 2pm,” she says. “None of our food is heavy, but at lunch time people often choose something very light and simple like seafood and salad.”

There’s also less alcohol on the table. “In the early days it was quite common for customers to start with a beer then work their way through white wine, red wine, a Limoncello or Sambuca, and finally, a cleansing ale,” says Tarchi. “Now they’re more likely to invest in just one bottle of a special wine that they and their guests can savour.”

Consistently popular

Award-winning chef Mark Best is renowned for the French-inspired fusions of flavour he serves at his Sydney restaurant Marque – last year it ranked 35 in Elite Traveler magazine’s listing of the world’s top 100 restaurants. On Fridays, deals are sealed over his popular three-course market lunch.

“We don’t offer a choice but the menu changes every week,” he says. “Our customers like it because they enjoy trying new things and it’s such good value.”

Best also owns two Pei Modern bistros, one based at Sydney’s Four Seasons Hotel and the other at Melbourne’s Sofitel, where the business lunch is his most consistently popular booking period.

“Limited time is definitely an issue these days, which is why I started our Eat + Pei + Quick menu in Melbourne four years ago,” he says. “Customers can order two or three courses and the dishes change to make the most of what’s best in the market. This proved very popular, so since October we’ve also been offering it in Sydney.”

Best agrees that there’s a move towards good, delicious, healthy cuisine driven by fresh produce. And when it comes to wine he finds that more people are choosing to order it by the glass.

“Any good restaurant has an experienced sommelier who can make interesting recommendations, so I suggest trying something different from your normal, go-to choice,” he says. “I love drinking by the glass at lunch as it provides a good snapshot of the sommelier’s style and it’s nice to match wine to your menu.”

Delicious, interesting food and good wine are the key ingredients of a great business lunch, but when time is short, good service is also crucial. “You want the service to be friendly and unpretentious but also efficient, so you can be sure of getting away when you need to,” says Best.

Good behaviour

From a restaurateur’s point-of-view, failing to honour a confirmed reservation is the height of bad manners.

“It’s still happens far too often,” says Best. Good manners are also fundamental in a successful business lunch. “Consider your guests when you’re choosing the venue,” says Anna Musson, founder of The Good Manners Company and author of Etiquette Secrets. “Start by asking whether they have any dietary requirements or preferences, then think about the kind of restaurant they would enjoy. For example, do they like cool, new venues? Or are they visiting from interstate and keen to sample a local landmark? Remember, too, that if you need to talk privately, atmosphere is most important.”

A restaurant that doesn’t accept bookings isn’t ideal unless you’re prepared to get there early enough to hold a table. Even when you’ve booked, you should be there in time to welcome your guests.

“When they arrive, direct them to their seats and be sure to offer them the chairs with the best view,” says Musson.

If you are the host, your guests may not be sure how many courses they should order. “As host, you should avoid any confusion by telling the waiter that you’ll be having entrée, main and dessert, or that you’ll go straight to the main course and possibly have dessert later on,” says Musson.

When it comes to the wine she recommends dictating the options, and holding on to the wine list. She suggests allowing an hour-and-a-half for the lunch, or two hours if there are more than three people and you already have good rapport. And, even when you’re keeping your eye on the time, she recommends waiting until you’ve had something to eat and begun to relax before bringing the conversation around to business.

“By then you should all be in the frame-of-mind to talk things through and to resolve any issues,” she says.

 A handwritten message

The most powerful way to follow up after a business lunch is to send a handwritten note, says Musson.

“An email or SMS when you’re back at your desk are both fine, but that’s what everyone does,” she says. “Some people get hundreds of electronic messages every day, so yours could have relatively little impact, whereas a handwritten note might sit on their mantle or desk for weeks.”

Getting down to business

Anna Musson explains how to set up a business lunch

Organise a business meeting for a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Many people like to spend Mondays getting organised for the week ahead, and on Fridays they might prefer to be tying up loose ends so they can get away for the weekend.

If you have scope to set the size of the meeting, aim for between five and seven people. Group decision-making can trigger collective intelligence but more than seven people can be hard to manage.

When you’re making introductions borrow from Chinese etiquette – begin with the most senior person, by position, and work downwards.

Place a copy of each business card you receive in front of you so you don’t stumble over names or titles.

Use a notepad and pen to take notes rather than an iPad or laptop as they can create a physical barrier.

This article was first published in Business View magazine (Winter 2015). For more articles and interactivity, download the iPad edition of Business View for free via our app, NAB Think.

More from NAB: